The NatWest Pro40 is nearing its completion and there is much to play for in both divisions.
It is easy to view the NatWest Pro40 as the poor relation of the domestic competitions. Failing to replicate the structure of international cricket in the way the Friends Provident trophy and Twenty20 cup do, the 40 0ver format appears irrelevant and redundant.
From 2010, that is exactly what it will be, for next season is the last in which a 40 over league will be played. Despite its diminishing stature, this season’s Pro40 has been enthralling and provides a dramatic climax this weekend.
Four division one teams go into the final round of matches with a chance of lifting the penultimate title, whilst the rest of the top flight are not yet safe from relegation. Four teams in division two will battle it out for the two automatic promotion spots and the play off place against the side finishing third from bottom in division one.
A final weekend of such permutations and possibilities reflects well on the competition, although the amount of matches lost to rain has contributed to the condensed nature of the tables.
Nottinghamshire are eyeing a league double and should be expected to see off Sussex, despite their panicked collapse against Lancashire in their penultimate match. The Sharks can make that clash at Trent Bridge a winner-takes-all affair with a win over Middlesex from their game in hand. Not quite the pressure of the Stanford Superstars match, but good preparation for Samit Patel, Graeme Swann and Luke Wright nonetheless.
Essex and Kent gaining promotion from division two would have been one of the more attractive cricket bets of the summer and neither have disappointed.
The Home Counties pair featured in Twenty20 finals day and contested the Friends Provident final and would surely have tied down the automatic promotion places if the bad weather hadn’t intervened.
Unbeaten Essex are all but guaranteed a top two finish and it is the Spitfires, hungry for revenge for their Lord’s defeat, who I expect to come out on top in this Canterbury showdown.
Should the rain stay away an interesting weekend is in store, which is unlikely to be the case next season. No rain is needed to make the 2009 Pro40 finale a damp squib, as only the top teams in division one will have anything to play for.